UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kenny Bell broke into the open field on a third-quarter kickoff return and saw just one more Penn State player to beat.
Bell couldn't lose this battle. That was about the only thing going through his mind.
“Don't get tackled by the kicker,” Bell said. “You will never live it down if you get tackled by the kicker.”
Bell ended up jumping over Penn State kicker Sam Ficken, who dove at his legs. Bell cruised for the next 35 yards, gliding into the end zone.
Coach Bo Pelini said the play was big, especially since the 99-yard return put Nebraska up 14-13 after the Nittany Lions had just scored a touchdown off a turnover.
Pelini liked Bell's nifty moves toward the end of the run, too. Said Pelini: “That was pretty sweet, when he got over the kicker.”
Deep throw was Bo's idea
It might have seemed like a gamble at the time, but Nebraska throwing from its end zone in the final minutes worked out as well as the Huskers could have hoped.
NU faced third-and-14 from its 1-yard line when Ron Kellogg tried a deep pass to Quincy Enunwa along the Husker sideline. Jordan Lucas was called for pass interference with 1:16 left, giving Nebraska a first down at the 16.
It kept Nebraska from a risky punt from the end zone — which likelyy would have let Penn State take over in Husker territory with a chance for a go-ahead field goal in a 20-20 game.
“Like Bo brought up, 'What do ya think about chucking one?'” NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “I said, 'Why not?' Worst-case scenario is it gets intercepted and it's as good as a punt that we don't got to line up 6 yards from the snapper (and kick).
“We'll max protect and throw it up there, and Ron picked the right side and threw a good ball.”
Nebraska picked up two more first downs on Kellogg passes of 13 yards to Ameer Abdullah and 12 yards to Jordan Westerkamp. When the Huskers finally punted, Penn State was left with just 10 seconds and took a knee, leading to overtime.
As usual, NU-PSU means controversy
Nebraska and Penn State can't seem to avoid controversial calls when they get together.
Last year, it was a fumble at Nebraska's goal line that Penn State fans believed had been a touchdown. This year, it was NU's fans' turn to be frustrated when Sam Burtch was flagged for a personal foul — unnecessary roughness — at the end of an apparent touchdown run by Abdullah.
Burtch, a sophomore wide receiver who walked on from Elmwood-Murdock High School, was trailing Abdullah when he blocked a Penn State defender into the Husker sideline. Burtch got his head in front of the defender so it wouldn't be called a block in the back, but hit him strongly enough that Burtch got flagged. Abdullah had scored a 62-yard touchdown, but it was waved off. Abdullah got credit for a 50-yard run instead.
“They robbed me. They robbed me of a long one,” Abdullah said, smiling. “They robbed Sam, too.”
Pelini wasn't the volcano he'd been with officials in the 2010 Texas A&M game, but he looked as livid as he's been this season.
Fear over being flagged for a similar personal foul might have explained Nebraska safety Corey Cooper's failure to prevent a 46-yard touchdown pass from Christian Hackenberg to Jesse James, Pelini said. Cooper engaged James around the 20-yard line and tried to push him out instead of delivering a blow. Pelini thought Cooper may have believed James was already out of bounds, and thus protected by officials.
“It's what these rules are doing to you,” Pelini said. “It puts indecision in a guy's mind. I lost a game in the NFL like that. Exactly like that. It was a quarterback, it wasn't a tight end. ... Trust me when I tell you: Coop wasn't turning down the tackle, I promise you that.”
Question marks at quarterback
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong's ankle injury has been an ongoing issue, Pelini said. But he hurt it severely enough in the first quarter Saturday that he was replaced by Ron Kellogg after the third drive.
Pelini said Armstrong should be ready to go Friday. Beck said he wasn't sure whom he'd pick between Armstrong and Kellogg because he wasn't sure how healthy Armstrong would be.
NU's No. 3 quarterback Saturday was Grand Island walk-on Ryker Fyfe. NU brought along freshman Johnny Stanton — who is redshirting this year — but that, Beck said, was just for experience.
Might quarterback Taylor Martinez be available? He's been battling a two-toe injury on his left foot. Beck said “probably not.” Would Beck check to make sure Martinez — who didn't make the trip to Penn State — is unavailable for Friday's game against Iowa?
“Probably,” Beck said.
Patchwork line holds together
As Nebraska was putting together its game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, its offensive line featured Zach Sterup at left tackle, Cole Pensick at left guard, Mark Pelini at center, Ryne Reeves at right guard and Andrew Rodriguez at right tackle.
Reeves was a sophomore playing more than he had in his career. Sterup was on the left side instead of the right. Rodriguez had moved back to right tackle after starting the game at right guard.
It was more piecing together for an offensive line that had Jeremiah Sirles and Jake Cotton starting Saturday. Both players ended up being limited because of recent knee injuries. Also, Pensick was fighting an injury, and Mike Moudy missed the trip.
Beck rattled off all kinds of names afterward as he lauded unlikely players stepping up.
“My hat's off to those guys, man,” Beck said. “I'm telling ya, it's a tribute to those guys, their work ethic, our team, the kind of intestinal fortitude that this group's got. It's been a privilege to coach these guys this year.”
— Jon Nyatawa, Rich Kaipust and Sam McKewon